Life Lessons

I Need My Kids To Understand Snacks Don’t Grow On Trees

Especially in this economy.

I got home from the grocery store yesterday, still glowing because I had $12 worth of reward coupons, and many of our weekly purchases were on sale. I’d saved over $20, which felt like a massive accomplishment since I’d been crying over the rising cost of food.

My youngest came down the stairs as I arrived — he’d been waiting for there to be some food in the house since I hadn’t gone shopping for a few days, ahem — and after helping me put the groceries away, loaded his arms with a bag of beef jerky, seaweed snacks, a bowl of granola, and a pint of blueberries. I found myself saying the thing I say at least three times a day: “Once your favorite snacks are gone, they are gone until I go back to the store, and I don’t know when that will be.”

As a child of the ‘80s, I grew up with three siblings. We were a single-income household for over half of my childhood, and the grocery store was half an hour away. That meant my mom went every two weeks, and when we ran out of something, we ran out — end of the story.

Now, I don’t love playing the “I had it worse than you card, so you better be thankful” card because I hated it when my parents went on that tangent, but sometimes I feel compelled to do it.

We live closer to town, and the grocery store is about a mile from where I pick my kids up from school every day, so it's not a colossal inconvenience for me to dip in there, but I also want my kids to realize it’s not my priority. Just because their favorite snack is gone, or we are out of their favorite cracker, it’s not my job to run to the store, so they always have their first choice on hand. Feeding three teens are no joke. And while I want them to be nourished and satisfied, that doesn’t mean I should give in to every craving they have. Not to mention they all have jobs and can buy their own snacks.

First, I want my kids to be creative with the food we already have. If I hold out on going to the store to get the chips or cereal they love, they are more likely to eat the leftover pasta salad sitting in the fridge, and I don’t end up throwing it out. I want them to grow up knowing they will be just fine if all their wants don’t get met.

And lately, I know we’ve all felt the pinch of things getting so expensive. While I don’t want to make my kids stressed or worry about money and the cost of living, they need to know a loaf of bread has practically doubled in the past few years and letting a perfectly fine loaf of bread go to waste because they want a different kind isn’t going to work for me.

The other day my oldest child was standing with the refrigerator door open, telling me he wanted yogurt. When I told him there was some right in front of his face, he said, “But it’s blueberry, and I don’t really like blueberry.” Then, when he remarked on the brand of ice cream I got (it was on sale), I told him he was welcome to go out and buy his own. He came home the next day with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s that cost him $10. It was a reality check for him, and hopefully, now he will get why I don’t run out and get more treats as soon as we are running low.

As their mom, I want to give them everything — especially things I didn’t have growing up. However, I don’t want them to be entitled brats who think my only purpose in life is to ensure they have everything they want, exactly when they want it. If we are out of milk or bread, that’s one thing. I will restock those as soon as I see we are running low. But, if my kids decide to eat an entire bag of double-stuffed Oreos as soon as I bring them home without me knowing they will have to wait a long time before there’s more in this house. I am their mother, yes, but I count too. And running to the store on command isn’t my idea of fun.

Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too much money online and drinking Coke Zero.